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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Peer review

Before you submit your paper, make sure you run through this printable checklist. The checklist is adapted from Elsevier’s article, “Eight reasons why I rejected your article”, and could save you a lot of strife after you hit that button. At Elsevier, 30 to 50 percent of articles don’t even make it to the peer review process, in many cases for reasons that are totally avoidable.

A good cover letter will help to “sell” your manuscript to the journal editor. It is your big opportunity to explain why your manuscript will be of interest to a journal’s readers, something which is always as the forefront editors’ mind. Spend time writing a coherent and persuasive cover letter, using the tips below.

  • Check to see whether the journal’s Instructions for Authors have any cover letter requirements (e.g. disclosures, statements, potential reviewers).
  • Address your letter to the journal’s editor-in-chief by their name (details should be on the journal website). Include the date of submission and the name of the journal you are submitting to.
  • In the first paragraph, include the title of your manuscript and the type of manuscript it is (e.g. review, research or case study). Then briefly explain the background to your study, the question you sought out to answer and why.
  • In the second paragraph, you should concisely explain what was done, the main findings and why they are significant.
  • In the third paragraph you should indicate why the readers of the journal would be interested in the work. Take your cues from the journal’s aims and scope. For example if the journal requires that all work published has broad implications explain how your study fulfils this. It is also a good idea to include a sentence on the importance of the results to the field.
  • To conclude state the corresponding author and any journal specific requirements that need to be complied with (e.g. ethical standards).
  • If you know of any, it is helpful to the editor to suggest potential reviewers. It will not make your paper more likely to be accepted but could help to speed up the review process.

All cover letters should contain these sentences:

  • We confirm that this manuscript has not been published elsewhere and is not under consideration by another journal.
  • All authors have approved the manuscript and agree with its submission to [insert the name of the target journal].

Once your cover letter is complete you will normally upload it on the journal submission portal, along with your article, figures etc. If there is no submission portal you should send it as an email message with your attached article.

Adapted from Springer Nature (2020)

1.  Read the Letter

Read the letter from the editor carefully and make sure you indeed have a request for a revise and resubmit. Other possible responses include: (i) Reject without an invitation to re-submit; (ii) Conditional acceptance, with minor changes required; and (iii) Outright acceptance, where changes are not required, but suggested. If you are unsure, seek clarification from the editor or consult a more experienced colleague.

2.  Create an Excel File to List the Revisions

Create an Excel file with four columns in which to put the suggestions for revisions. Label the columns as follows: “Reviewer”; “Suggestions”; “Response”; “Done?” Widen the columns and wrap the text to make it more readable.

3.  Extract the suggestions from the reviewers’ and editors’ letters

Read the reviews to extract the suggestions for revision and put these in the Excel file.

Do not be surprised if reviews vary enormously in length, quality and perspective. I received one review that was only three sentences long (and positive), whilst the other comprised three pages of suggested corrections, for example. Some reviewers provide an organised, ‘point by point’ response which makes this step easier, whilst others don’t.

Read the review closely and extract all specific suggestions. The beauty of this step is that you can rewrite the suggestions, if the reviewer uses a mean-spirited tone. For example, the reviewer might write: “One major problem with this article is that the research methods are suspect.” You can re-write this as: “Provide a more accurate and complete discussion of the data collection.” Be sure to label each suggestion according to where it comes from: Reviewer One, Two, or Three, or the editor.

4.  Re-arrange the suggestions for revision in a logical fashion

Often, both reviewers will mention in different ways that you need to build up the conceptual framework or the literature review. If you group all of the literature review suggestions together, it will be easier to tackle the revision systematically. Be sure you have labelled each suggestion according to where it came from, in order to facilitate this process. Organizing all of the suggestions for the Introduction, the Literature Review, the data analysis, etc., will make it easier to respond to the reviews.

5.  Decide how you will respond to all of the suggestions

If the suggestion is to more clearly define the difference between “transnational” and “transborder,” then you can write: “Add one paragraph to the conceptual framework that clearly explains the difference between transnational and transborder, and why this distinction is useful.” Be sure that the suggestions you lay out for yourself make it clear what the next step is.

Note: You must respond to all of the suggestions. There may be some suggestions that you disagree with. This is fine, but you have to make a conscious decision not to respond to any particular suggestion. For example, the reviewer might suggest that you return to the archive to explore more biographical features of a certain person. You can respond that this step is not necessary for your argument. Place all of your instructions to yourself for how you will respond in the third column.

6. Tackle your revision plan, step by step

Now that you have made a clear plan for revision by outlining all of the reviewers’ suggestions and have decided how you will respond, you can tackle the revisions one by one. If you feel intimidated, start with the easiest ones. Usually, the easy ones will be something along the lines of: “Find and add a quote from Diana’s interview that elucidates how subjects talk about discrimination.” Even easier: “Add citation from Stephens (2009) about transnationalism from below.”

7.  Use your Excel file to write the memo to the editor

You should not send the editor your Excel file. Instead, you can use your Excel file to write a neat, comprehensive, and well-formatted response memo to the editor. Here is an example from a memo to the editor: ‘Reviewer One’ suggested that I engage the literature at a deeper level to get the most out of the data. I have included a more in-depth analysis of transnationalism into my data analysis section. Be polite and courteous in the memo, whatever the tone of the review. Remember, the reviewers are likely to be reviewing your resubmission and will be reading this memo too.

8. Double-check

Go back to the original reviews, and double-check to make sure that you have not missed anything. Go through each critique, and double-check your memo to the editor to make sure you have addressed each critique and have explained how you have responded to the editor.

9.  Do a final read-over

Read over your article to make sure that you have maintained the flow and argument of your paper even after having made the revisions. Read it without thinking about the reviews, but imagine a reader who is unaware of your original article or of the letter from the reviewers, as that reader is now your intended audience.

10.  Re-submit

Send the revised article and the revision memo back to the journal editor.

Adapted from Golash-Boza (2011)

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